DEAD SEA SCROLLS AND THEIR INSIGHTS INTO JEWISH SECTS AND BIBLICAL TEXTS

DEAD SEA SCROLLS

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Dead Sea Scrolls Habakkuk Pesher
The Dead Sea Scrolls include the world’s oldest surviving biblical texts and oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible. Dated to between 250 B.C. and A.D. 70 they have been described by scholars as ---the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times--- and consist of rolled manuscripts found in jars in 11 caves overlooking the northwest corner of the Dead Sea, near the archaeological site of Qumran between 1947 and 1956.

Owen Jarus wrote in Live Science: “The Dead Sea Scrolls contain early copies of almost every book of the Hebrew Bible and have been called, justifiably, the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century. Dating between roughly 200 B.C. up until about A.D. 70, when the Romans destroted the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and Qumran was abandoned, the 900 manuscripts found in 11 caves contain materials that include canonical works from the Hebrew Bible, including Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Kings and Deuteronomy. They also include psalms, hymns, calendars, apocryphal (non-canonical) biblical works and community rules. One scroll made of copper describes the location of buried treasure. Questions about who wrote the scrolls are still debated. Many scholars believe they were written by a monastic sect called the Essenes, who lived at Qumran.” [Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science, September 30, 2013]

The Dead Sea Scrolls are 1000 years older than other versions of Biblical scriptures, yet their text varies little from the text found in the Old Testament in today's Bibles. The scrolls are of great significance to scholars for the insights they offer into the creation of the Bible and other Jewish and Christian religious texts. They also provide insights into what was going on in Palestine during one of the most important periods of human history: when Christianity was developing and when Judaism was going through cataclysmic changes.

After years of study, the Dead Sea Scrolls have revealed that Biblical texts were more unsettled, that Judaism was more diverse and that early Christianity was more Jewish than most people thought.

In 2008, the Israel Museum and Israel Antiquities Authority, the custodian of the scrolls, began taking digital photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls using special camera that produce no damaging heat or ultraviolet radiation with the aim of making all the Dead Sea scrolls available to the public and researchers on the Internet

Books: The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls ; The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English by Geza Vermes; Discoveries in the Judean Desert (Oxford University Press).

Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org ; Judaism Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah.org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; BBC - Religion: Judaism bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com/topic/Judaism; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish History.org jewishhistory.org ; Christianity and Christians Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Christianity.com christianity.com ; BBC - Religion: Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/ ; Christianity Today christianitytoday.com; Websites and Resources with Biblical Images: Bible in Pictures creationism.org/books ebibleteacher ebibleteacher.com ; Bible-History.com bible-history.com ; Pictures from the Bible lavistachurchofchrist.org ; Bible Blue Letter Images blueletterbible.org/images ; Biblical Images preceptaustin.org

Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls

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Temple scroll
John J. Collins wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The Dead Sea Scrolls “are the only primary texts we have from Judea that date to about the time of the birth of Christianity and just before the rise of rabbinical Judaism. Consequently, they are precious evidence of the nature of Judaism at a time of enormous consequence for Western history. Scholars who control the interpretation of the scrolls can potentially have a great impact on the understanding of Judaism and Christianity, and it is the lure of such influence on the understanding of Western history that has made the scrolls a battleground nonpareil of academic controversy. [Source: John J. Collins, Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2013. Collins is a professor at Yale Divinity School and the author of the book "The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography" |=|]

“In fact, the impact of the scrolls is somewhat less than is sometimes claimed, but it is considerable nonetheless. They shed light on the Scriptures that were revered in the time of Jesus; they provide numerous parallels in detail to the New Testament; they show that a concern for exact interpretation of the law, which is characteristic of rabbinical literature, was already in place around the turn of the era; and they also show that there was considerable variety in the Judaism of the time. Nothing in the scrolls either validates or discredits Christianity or Judaism as they later evolved, but the scrolls are an invaluable source of information about a crucial juncture in the development of Western religion.” |=|

Shaye I.D. Cohen of Brown University wrote: “Even before the Qumran Scrolls were discovered, we knew that Judaism in the time of Jesus was a very diverse phenomena. After all, the Jewish historian Josephus gives us the names of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. We know from the New Testament of a group called Herodians - what they are exactly, we don't know, but there they are. Rabbinic texts add the names of yet other groups and then once the war comes around, in the year 66, we have the names of a whole slew of other groups.... Plus, we have a very wide ranging rich literature from this period which is impossible to imagine all coming from a single source, or all coming from a single school or a single class. The result was, even before the Qumran Scrolls were discovered, we knew or sensed that Judaism in the 1st century of our era was a very rich and varied phenomena. What the Qumran Scrolls do is to demonstrate clearly and unambiguously the truth of that which we always somehow felt or intuited.... [Source: Shaye I.D. Cohen, Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies Brown University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“The Qumran Scrolls show us the existence of a sect, a group that has separated itself from society at large, a group that defines itself against the Temple, the single central institution of Judaism..., and sees itself as the repository of everything that is sacred and true and sees all other Jews out there, including the priests, as wrong at best and at worst, irredeemably wicked. That is something which we had never previously seen....<>

“The Qumran Scrolls also reveal a whole range of new books which we previously had not known, or had known about only in fragments or only in quotations, or perhaps in corrupted versions. We now have the original text. We have now a rich library of text showing that diversity was even greater than we had ever imagined and the range of possibilities for 1st century Judaism was far bigger than any of us had ever suspected.<>

Essenes, Authors the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Dead Sea Scrolls were produced by Jewish sects, including an apocalyptical Jewish sect known as the Essenes. Archaeological excavations in the area were the scrolls were found revealed an Essenes community center that produced many of the scrolls. The center contained a scriptorium, with clay scribe writing tables and inkwells. Shards from jars matched the jars in the caves that contained the scrolls. A cache of silver coins found in the scriptorium was instrumental in dating the scrolls.

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Dead Sea scroll written by the Essenes
The Essenes were crushed and driven from the Dead Sea by the Romans during he war in A.D. 68 that followed the Jewish revolts. It is believed that the scrolls were hidden in the caves before their demise.

It was once believed that nearly all the scrolls were produced by the Essenes. Now, based partly on wide range of views displayed in the texts, it is widely believed to many of scrolls were written by other Jewish sects such as the Sadducces, a priestly group described by the Jewish historian Josephus.

A collection of psalms claim David as their author. Some of the scrolls were written by someone referred to as the "teacher of the Righteousness." Some Christians have suggested, without much evidence, that this may have been Jesus or John the Baptist.

Essenes

The Essenes were a breakaway, apocalyptic Jewish sect that lived around the Dead Sea. Regarded as the authors of the Dead Sea scrolls, they moved to the desert to await the Messiah and believed in baptism and redemption. Since their monasteries were so close to John's baptismal site many believe they were early purveyors of Christianity. Most everything that is known about the Essenes has been derived from the Dead Sea scrolls.

The Essenes believed that they had been chosen to fight the "sons of darkness" as end of the world approached. They founded the earliest known monasteries and were led by leader called the Teacher of Righteousness. Their calendar was different from that of mainstream Jewish sects associated with the Temple of Jerusalem. They were highly secretive and conducted ritual bathes. Many lived in manmade caves dug into marl. Excavations by archaeologists of numerous bathing facilities at the Dead-Sea-scroll of Quamran suggests that these proto-Christians practiced baptism.

The Essenes allowed couples to live together without marriage. The relationship was only solemnized if the woman became pregnant. The Essenes may have influenced some of Jesus' teachings. The sect preached the idea of salvation but only to a few, not all of humanity like Jesus did. The Essenes were conquered in A.D. 68 by the Romans.

Some archaeologists now believe that the Essenes did not actually live in the Dead Sea area when the scrolls were written. They believed that when the scrolls were found the area was inhabited by ordinary farmers. This theory is based on findings that suggest that seasonal workers lived in Qumaran and there is no direct evidence that the Essenes or a people of “any uniqueness” lived there. They suggest the scrolls were written in Jerusalem and hidden in Qumran. Others disagree. One archaeologist found vessels---like those used to store the Dead Sea schools and bones---which appeared to have been laid out in some order, suggesting a religious ritual, possible evidence that the Essnes did live in the area.

Location of the Dead Sea Scrolls

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Dead Sea Scrolls map
The Qumran community was situated on a terrace above the ravine known as the Wadi Qumran overlooking the Dead Sea in what is now the West Bank. Cave Four, where a large collection of manuscript fragments was found, lies below the southern edge of the terrace on which the Qumran community lived and overlooks the Wadi Qumran.

L. Michael White of the University of Texas wrote: “As you leave Jerusalem and go to the south and to the east, toward the Dead Sea, the terrain changes rapidly and starkly. You move off gradually from [the] ... rolling hillside, through the ravines, and it becomes stark and desolate. It's dry. It's arid. It's rocky, and it's rough. And all of a sudden, within a span of only about thirteen miles, the entire terrain drops out in front of you as you go from roughly 3400 feet above sea level at Jerusalem, to nearly 1400 feet below sea level at the surface of the Dead Sea. It is in that rugged cliff face, on the banks of the Dead Sea, in this arid, desolate climate, that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered at the site known as Khirbet Qumran. The Scrolls were discovered, according to the story that, now, many people know, of a shepherd boy wandering along with his flocks and, as boys tend to do, throwing rocks in a cave. So the story goes that he heard a crack in one, went in to investigate and found a ceramic pot with what appeared to be pages inside. Those were then taken out and eventually found their way onto the market, and were only later rediscovered and deciphered as the Dead Sea Scrolls. [Source: L. Michael Whit, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“Subsequent to that first discovery, eleven different caves have been found at Qumran. And new discoveries are expected even now. Among the caves were found, then, thousand of fragments of manuscripts and quite a number of whole, or mostly complete, manuscripts in scrolls stored in these jars.

Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The first Dea Sea scrolls were discovered in 1947 near Qumran. Accounts vary on exactly how the discovery was made. According to one story, a Bedouin boy named Muhammad Adh-Dhib, searching for a lost goat, threw a stone into a cave above the Dead Sea. When he heard something shatter he ran away to get a friend. After hoisting themselves inside the cave they discovered several jars with seven scrolls stuffed inside them. There are some inconsistencies with the boy’s stories. Some think they were more likely on a looting expedition than herding goats. The caves where the scrolls were found were on steep cliffs facing a barren area, not the kind of place people tend goats.

In any case, the seven scrolls were sold by the boys themselves or members of their tribe to two antiquities dealers in Bethlehem. Three were bought by Dr. Eleazar Sukenik, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University. Four of the Dead Scrolls were purchased reluctantly for 24 pounds by a Syrian cleric named Athanasius Veshue Samuel in Jerusalem. In April, 1948 he learned of the scrolls value and age and announced the discovery to the world. He took out an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal and they were sold to the Israeli government for $250,000.

In the meantime caves in the Qumran area were searched by Bedouins who found some more scrolls and sold them to dealers. In 1949, archaeologists began an organized search of the caves, and hundreds of manuscripts were ultimately found by 1956.

Composition of Dead Sea Scroll

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Linen Dead Sea scroll
The Dead Sea Scrolls consist of around 800 or so religious texts, legal codes, oracles, secular works, and literary works, about 90 percent of which were written in Hebrew, with the remainder mostly written in Greek or Aramaic. They are not original texts but copies of sacred texts made by scribes. Several scrolls revealed ancient Hebrew script, dating from the 7th century B.C., thus making them the oldest Biblical texts ever found.

The Dead Sea scrolls were made of leather, wrapped in linen and placed in earthen pottery containers. When they were found they were badly decomposed. They survived as long as they did because they were made of relatively strong materials, stored in containers, and kept in caves in a very dry place. They were dated using carbon dating techniques and by coins and pottery fragments found near the scrolls and archaeological sites in the area. DNA testing of the leather in the scrolls showed the leather came from the same animal herd.

There are about 900 scrolls in all which in turn are broken into about 9,000 fragments. A few large pieces are on permanent display at the Israel Museum. Some of the scrolls had been reduced to brittle fragments the size of a dime. Assembling them so their texts could be read has been painstakingly slow and likened to putting together a jigsaw puzzle made from peanut skins. Some scrolls are so fragile they took seven years simply to unroll.

In 1952, a copper scroll was found. Even after is was broken into pieces it was too brittle to unroll. Archaeologists and engineers developed a way to mount the scrolls on a spindle so they could be unrolled and cut into paper-thin pieces.

Contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls contain early copies of almost every book of the Hebrew Bible and have been called, justifiably, the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century. Dating between roughly 200 B.C. up until about A.D. 70, when the Romans destroted the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and Qumran was abandoned, the 900 manuscripts found in 11 caves contain materials that include canonical works from the Hebrew Bible, including Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Kings and Deuteronomy. They also include psalms, hymns, calendars, apocryphal (non-canonical) biblical works and community rules. One scroll made of copper describes the location of buried treasure. Questions about who wrote the scrolls are still debated. Many scholars believe they were writtem by a monastic sect called the Essenes, who lived at Qumran. [Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science, September 30, 2013]

Shaye I.D. Cohen of Brown University wrote: “The manuscripts that we call the Dead Sea Scrolls are a wide variety of texts. Some of these texts are hardly sectarian texts. These are texts that all Jews would have had, all Jews would have read. For example, the largest single category of Dead Sea text or Qumran Scrolls are text you and I call Biblical. No one is going to say the Book of Genesis was a Qumran document because fragments of the Book of Genesis were found in the Qumran scrolls.... We have to realize then that the Qumran scrolls contain a wide variety of text and we are not always able to distinguish clearly those texts which they simply read from those texts, which they actually wrote. [Source: Shaye I.D. Cohen, Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies Brown University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

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Dead Sea caves
L. Michael White of the University of Texas wrote: “Among the cache of scrolls that we now call the Dead Sea Scrolls, are three distinct types of material. First, we have a collection of copies of the actual books of the Hebrew Scriptures. These people were copyists. They were preserving the texts of the Bible itself. Secondly, there were commentaries on these biblical texts. But these commentaries also show their own interpretation of what would happen. This is where we begin to get some of the insights into the way the Essenes at Qumran believed, because of the way they interpret the prophecies of Isaiah, or the prophesies of Habakkuk as well as the way they read the Torah, itself. So among the scrolls, then, we have a complete set of almost all the biblical books, and commentaries on many of them. "The Isaiah Scroll" is one of the most famous of the biblical manuscripts. And the commentaries on Isaiah is also very important for our understanding of Jewish interpretation of Scripture in this period. [Source: L. Michael Whit, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“The third major type of material found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, though, in some ways is the most interesting insight into the life of the community that lived there, because this material includes their own sectarian writings, that is, their rules of life ... their prayer book. Included then, is the book of the rule of the community or sometimes called "The Manual of Discipline", which talks about how one goes about getting into the community. The rules for someone who wants to be pure and a part of the elect community. We also have something called "The War Scroll" and the War Scroll seems to be their own battle plan for the war that will occur at the end of the present evil age. And so this is something that really is real in their mind ... that this coming end of the age will be a cataclysmic event in their view. Also was found something called "The Copper Scroll". Quite literally, with the letters incised, in Hebrew, into soft, burnished copper. And the contents of the Copper Scroll are still a source of great interest among many people, because people think it may be a treasure map of their own holdings.” <>

Discoveries from the Dead Sea Scrolls

Hershel Shanks wrote for PBS: “By 1960 the contents of the collection were reasonably clear. More than two hundred Dead Sea documents were books of the Hebrew Bible. These varied in size from a tiny scrap to a complete book of the prophet Isaiah. Other manuscripts were nonbiblical books, known from later medieval copies, such as Jubilees and Enoch. In the case of such texts, the Dead Sea Scroll fragments could be reconstructed relatively easily since the later copy formed a template into which the fragments could be fit. [Source: Hershel Shanks, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Book: “The Meaning and Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls” by Hershel Shanks (Random House, 1998) <>]

“But hundreds of Dead Sea documents were completely unknown. It is these that proved most fascinating, both to scholars and to the public. Most of the documents were written on either goatskin or sheepskin. A few were on papyrus. One especially intriguing intact scroll engraved on copper sheeting identified over sixty sites of buried treasure. The various texts were bewildering--previously unknown psalms, Bible commentaries, calendrical texts, mystical texts, apocalyptic texts, liturgical texts, purity laws, Rabbinic-like expansions of biblical stories, and on and on. How to make sense of it all?<>

“From the outset it seemed clear that some of the scrolls reflected the views of a distinct Jewish sect, which scholars soon identified as the Essenes, an obscure Jewish movement described in some detail by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. In recent years, however, the Essene hypothesis has been increasingly questioned, as we shall see.<>

“Another aspect of the scrolls proved more sensational: In many respects the published scrolls seemed to mimic Christian doctrine--though most of them dated to a time before the Christian era. Was Jesus to be found in the scrolls? Was Christian doctrine, long thought to be unique, foreshadowed by the scrolls?<>

Dead Sea Scroll Biblical Texts

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Isaiah Chapter 53
About 127 of the scrolls are biblical texts, including partial and complete books from the Old Testament (or Torah). Every part of the Hebrew bible was found, except for Esther, the only book which doesn't mention God. The teaching of Isaiah, the Psalms and Deuteronomy are prominently featured. One of the first seven scrolls discovered was a complete Book of Isaiah that is 24 feet long.

Overall the texts in the Dead Sea scrolls are amazingly similar to those found in modern Bibles, and have not offered any radical interpretations or particularly groundbreaking insights. There are few differences however. The Scroll of the Apocryphal Genesis , for example, contains passages of Abraham’s journey, Sarah’s beauty and Noah’s birth that are not in the Bible. Another contains a Satan figure called Mastenah who encouraged God to test Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his son. Others contain lines from the Book of Samuel and the Psalms that are different from those in modern Bibles.

The number of different takes on the same text have led scholars to conclude that there were a number of interpretations out there, offered perhaps by different sects, and there was no single “authorized” version. Many versions seem to be drawn from the Septuagint, the earliest Greek Old Testament.

Several scrolls contain the priestly benediction from Genesis: "The Lord bless thee and keep thee: The Lord make his face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace ." The Great Isaiah Scroll is the best preserved and most complete of the Dead Sea biblical scrolls. It contains the famous line “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up swords against nations neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Dead Sea Scroll Non Biblical Texts

The remaining scrolls contain prayers, lists of rules, interpretations of the Bible, mystical hymns, magical and astrological texts, and apocalyptic visions. The Manuel of Discipline , provides details about the Essenes way of life. The War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness describes conflicts between the sects and provides and insight into the Messianic expectations and frenzy that existed in Palestine around the time Christ was born.

The Thanksgiving Hymns is a collection of songs similar to the psalms. The Commentary of the Book of Habakkuk describes the desecration of a sanctuary of God and the persecution of a righteous teacher who was driven into exile by wicked priests.

Ten of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in a mysterious code that was broken by an American scholar who said they contained basic spiritual tenets, a record of moon's cycle and laws. The copper scroll contains a list of hidden treasures, including 200 tons of gold and silver items. No items on the list have ever been found leading scholars to believe they were imaginary.

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Like their fellow Jews, the sectaries of Qumran made use of writings now included in the Jewish Bible, with the possible exception of Esther of which no fragment has, as yet, been found. They also possessed copies of Ben Sira's work and Tobit, as well as Jubilees (at least ten copies), Enoch and The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs which are today placed in the Pseudepigrapha. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, infidels.org <=>]

“In addition, they consulted writings that appear to have been uniquely their own, including a collection of thanksgiving hymns, a manual of the order of the community ("The Manual of Discipline"), an apocryphal scroll called "The Wars of the Sons of Darkness versus the Sons of Light," a Genesis Apocryphon, a copper "treasure" scroll, commentaries on the books of Nahum and Habakkuk and numerous other writings. Clearly, the library of Qumran was not limited to books later adopted by the Jews as authoritative. At the same time, there is no way to determine how the Qumran sect weighted the authority of individual writings. Jubilees, on the basis of manuscript counting, appears to have been a popular work, and is quoted in one of the sect's documents, The Damascus Document, but one cannot assume that it was given more weight than the book of Isaiah which was also represented by several copies. <=>

“Among the writings recovered from Qumran was a collection of hymns of thanksgiving, apparently composed by members of the sect. The hymns are not unlike the psalms of thanksgiving in the Bible. The scrolls were composed of parchment leather and were wrapped in linen. Decomposition was due to natural aging brought on by time and some moisture, and in some cases increased by rodents nibbling the edges of the manuscripts.” <=>

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Copper scroll

Dead Sea Scrolls Links Between Judaism and Christianity

Hershel Shanks wrote for PBS: “It was such questions as these that aroused--and continue to arouse--wide public interest in the scrolls. The French scholar Andre Dupont-Sommer, who was not a member of the scroll publication team, sought to draw a direct line between the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran and Christianity, arguing that Jesus was prefigured by a character in the scrolls known as the Teacher of Righteousness. [Source: Hershel Shanks, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

In a now-famous passage, Dupont-Sommer wrote: “The Galilean Master . . . appears in many respects as an astonishing reincarnation of [the Teacher of Righteotlsness in the scrolls]. Like the latter, He preached penitence, poverty, humility, love of one's neighbor, chastity. Like him, He prescribed the observance of the law of Moses, the whole Law, but the Law finished and perfected, thanks to His own revelations. Like him, He was the Elect and Messiah of God, the Messiah redeemer of the world. Like him, He was the object of the hostility of the priests.... Like him He was condemned and put to death. Like him He pronounced judgment on Jerusalem, which was taken and destroyed by the Romans for having put Him to death. Like him, at the end of time, He will be the supreme judge. Like him, He founded a Church whose adherents fervently awaited his glorious return.<>

“Dupont-Sommer greatly influenced the prominent American literary critic Edmund Wilson, who wrote a best-selling book on the scrolls, reprinted from a series of articles that appeared in The New Yorker from 1951 to 1954. Wilson, following Dupont-Sommer, claimed that the Qumran sect and early Christianity were "successive phases of a [single] movement." Wilson drew out the implications of Dupont-Sommer's position:<>

“The monastery [at Qumran], this structure of stone that endures, between the waters and precipitous cliffs, with its oven and its inkwells, its mill and its cesspool, its constellations of sacred fonts and the unadorned graves of its dead, is perhaps, more than Bethlehem or Nazareth, the cradle of Christianity.<>

“This position was given credibility by factors entirely unrelated to the content of the scrolls themselves. The publication team, was largely Catholic, indeed largely Catholic priests, and, foolishly, they refused to release the texts of the unpublished fragmentary scrolls. This decision, understandably, led to accusations that the unpublished scrolls were being withheld because they undermined Christian faith. Ultimately the refusal to release the scrolls resulted, in the words of Geza Vermes, a distinguished commentator on the scrolls, in "the academic scandal par excellence of the twentieth century. "<>

What the Dead Sea Scrolls Tell Us and What They Don’t

L. Michael White of the University of Texas told PBS: ““The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and our growing knowledge of the Essene community that produced them, gives us one of the most important pieces of evidence for the diversity of Jewish life and thought in the time of Jesus. Now, it has sometimes been suggested that Jesus, himself, or maybe even John the Baptist, were members of this group. And that can't be proven at all. But what the Essenes and the Qumran scrolls do show us is the kind of challenges that could be brought against some of the traditional lines of Jewish thought, and even the operation of the Temple itself. So if one of our perspectives is that there is this growing tension in Jerusalem, the Essenes are probably the best example of how radical that questioning of Temple life might become.” [Source: L. Michael Whit, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

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Psalms Scroll

Hershel Shanks wrote for PBS: ““In 1991, after considerable struggle, as we shall see, the hitherto secret texts finally became available to all scholars. Since then scroll scholarship has burgeoned. It is now possible to attempt an assessment, which provides the occasion for this book: What do the scrolls tell us about the period from which both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism emerged? [Source: Hershel Shanks, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“It is clear that the scrolls have not fulfilled the extravagant expectations that their discovery first aroused. Dupont-Sommer was wrong. Jesus is not in the scrolls. Nor is the uniqueness of Christianity in doubt. But the scrolls do tell us a great deal that we had not previously known about the situation of Judaism at the dawn of Christianity.<>

“The scrolls also tell us much about Judaism at the time the Temple still stood in Jerusalem and about the roots of Rabbinic Judaism, the direct ancestor of all major Jewish denominations today, which emerged after the Romans destroyed the Temple. Finally, the scrolls tell us about the Bible before the authoritative canon was established in the second century A.D., at a time when different versions of the biblical books circulated within the Jewish world.<>

“The scrolls thus provide a unique insight into a religious culture at a time of unparalleled religious as well as social ferment. The earliest of the scrolls dates to about 250 B.C.; the latest to 68 A.D., when the conquering Romans destroyed Qumran on their way to Jerusalem, which they burned a bare two years later, effectively ending the First Jewish Revolt against Rome.<>

Condition and Fate of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Some scrolls were opened with relative ease; others demanded meticulous care and a maximum of patience. Hershel Shanks wrote for PBS: “Most of the intact scrolls were easily readable by anyone who knew Hebrew or, in one case, Aramaic. The fragmentary scrolls, however, presented a more difficult problem. These too were mostly Hebrew, though some 25 percent were in Aramaic, a closely related Semitic language that was the vernacular in Palestine at the time of Jesus. But, on average, about 90 percent of each of these documents was missing and there were few obvious fragment joins. Letters were frequently dim and uncertain. That the scroll team was able to produce transcripts of these fragments, with some reconstructions of missing parts, in so short a time is an enormous scholarly accomplishment. [Source: Hershel Shanks, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

The scrolls are now all in the procession of the Israeli government and only a small exclusive coterie of scholars has been allowed to handle them. For decades this group held up the public release of the majority of the texts. There was a politics and controversy. One chairman of the publications committee was fired after making anti-Semitic remarks.

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Great Isaiah Scroll

They stalling finally ended in 1991 when a new group of 100 scholars, headed by Emmanuel Tov of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, took charge of the scrolls and a California library released photographic images of the remaining unpublished fragments.

In the 1990s, the Internet, e-mail and laser printers helped speed up the process of publishing and disseminating the scrolls. By 1997 about 80 percent of the scrolls had been published by Oxford University Press under the title Discoveries in the Judean Desert . Finally at November 2001, it was announced that nearly all the Dead Sea Scrolls had been published. Some of the scrolls can be seen in the Israeli museum.

The Qumarn Ostracon, found in 1996 in Qumarn, is a deed that may include a reference to the community that wrote the Dead Sea scrolls.

Genizah at the Ben Ezra Synagogue

Another important find in the understanding of Judaism was the discovery of a cache of old manuscripts, dating from the from A.D. 882, found in the Genizah (store rooms) at the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, an early Islamic city near Cairo. The manuscripts had been preserved because of a Jewish law that required flawed manuscripts to be set aside rather than thrown out. Among the manuscripts were fragments from Genesis copied in the 5th or 6th centuries or perhaps earlier.

Some of the most interesting revelations came from vellum pages that had been washed to be used again but still had legible original text on them. The earliest of these is a literal translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek by Aquila around A.D. 125. A fragment from the 6th century manuscript kept at the Cambridge University library shows that Greek was still used by Jews. Another Genizah fragment, two passages with the end of Nehemiah (13: 20-21), with a date corresponding to A.D. 903-904, is the earliest dated medieval Hebrew manuscript. The format of the manuscript is remarkably similar to Iranian Korans made around the same time.

Another treasure thought to have originated at Genizah is the earliest near complete dated manuscript of the Bible. copied in A.D. 929 . According to Souren Meliken, art critic in the International Herald Tribune, it is decorated in a similar way as Korans from Syria made around the same time.

History of Dead Sea Scroll Research


Dead Sea scroll resarch

Hershel Shanks wrote for PBS: ““Half a century has now passed since a bedouin shepherd discovered a long-hidden cache of scrolls in a cave in cliffs above the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. The details of that initial discovery will probably never be known with certainty. Who found the scrolls, how, under precisely what conditions - such questions are by this time shrouded in mystery. Even the date is uncertain; the 1930s, 1942, and 1945 have all been suggested as alternatives to the generally accepted date of 1947, probably February of that year. What is not in doubt, however, is the age of the scrolls themselves. They date to the time of Jesus and shortly before. [Source: Hershel Shanks, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Book: “The Meaning and Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls” by Hershel Shanks (Random House, 1998) <>]

“Between the early I950's and 1956, archaeologists and bedouin vied with one another to find more scrolls, and eventually a library of over eight hundred different manuscripts was recovered. The bedouin were the clear victors in this quest. In one case, the bedouin explored the richest cave, now known as Cave 4, right under the noses of archaeologists who were excavating the nearby ruins of a site called Qumran, hoping to learn more about the scrolls from this ancient settlement as it emerged from the sand.<>

“Of the eight hundred manuscripts, fewer than a dozen were in any sense intact. The rest were mere fragments--about twenty-five thousand of them--many no bigger than a fingernail. Acquiring these fragments from the bedouin turned out to be more complicated than acquiring the intact scrolls from the initial cache. Yet it was critical that all these fragments end up in the same place to assure that each manuscript could be maximally reconstructed. An arrangement was worked out between the authorities and a Bethlehem antiquities dealer nicknamed Kando, who had become the middleman for the bedouin, to purchase their finds. In this way, all the fragments were eventually acquired by what was then the Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jordanian-controlled east Jerusalem.<>

“Beginning in 1953, an international team of young scholars was assembled in Jerusalem under Jordanian auspices to sort out these thousands of fragments. Most of the seven-man team, which included no Jews, were Catholic priests. In retrospect their accomplishments were remarkable. While the task of identifying fragments will never be completed (even today new pieces are being fit into the puzzles), by 1960 this team of scholars had not only identified the pieces of the eight hundred documents and arranged them as well as they could, they had also deciphered and transcribed them so that they could be easily read.<>

“Meanwhile, by 1958 Israeli and American scholars had published the seven intact scrolls from the initial cache.<>

Disputes Over the Dead Sea Scrolls

Disputes over the Dead Sea Scrolls have raged almost since the moment the existence became known. John J. Collins wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “In June 1954, a small advertisement ran in the Wall Street Journal: "Biblical manuscripts dating back to at least 200 BC are for sale." The commercial offering was the start of a long and controversial path for the Dead Sea Scrolls... The manuscripts offered in the Wall Street Journal had been brought to the United States by a Syrian archbishop, who didn't want the scrolls to end up in Israeli hands. But it turned out that the purchaser, unbeknown to the sellers, was acting on behalf of the state of Israel, and so the first scrolls discovered ended up in Israel and can still be seen in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. [Source: John J. Collins, Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2013. Collins is a professor at Yale Divinity School and the author of the book "The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography" |=|]


Dead Sea scroll containers they were found in

“The great trove of texts found after Israeli independence, however, was under Jordanian control, and no Jewish scholars were allowed on the official team of editors who had exclusive access to the manuscripts. After the 1967 war, all the scrolls came under Israeli control, but ownership is disputed to this day. Controversy erupted anew during the 1950s when John Allegro, a maverick member of the editorial team, claimed in a British radio broadcast that a Jewish sectarian leader, known as the Teacher of Righteousness, had anticipated Jesus Christ in uncanny ways. According to Allegro, the teacher was crucified and his followers "took down the broken body of their Master to stand guard over it until Judgment Day," when he would rise again. The other editors protested that they found nothing of the sort in the scrolls. Allegro later fully discredited himself by publishing "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross," in which he argued that Christianity was a fertility cult involving sacred mushrooms. |=|

“In the 1980s, scholars grew impatient with the long delay in publishing the scrolls, which meant that access to them was severely restricted. That controversy came to a head in 1991 when the editor in chief, John Strugnell, was forced to resign after he was quoted in an Israeli newspaper as saying that Judaism was a horrible religion that ought not to exist. Strugnell, an alcoholic who also suffered from bipolar disorder, was not of sound mind when he gave the interview. He had a good record of working with Israeli scholars and was the first to include some of them on the editorial team, but his position was obviously untenable. |=|

“The publication of the scrolls, however, remained a contentious issue, even when access to them was no longer restricted. The unauthorized publication of an important text called 4QMMT ("Some of the Works of the Law") by Hershel Shanks in Biblical Archaeology Review became the subject of a lawsuit by Elisha Qimron, one of the editors to whom the text had been assigned. An Israeli court ruled against Shanks, and the trial cost him more than $100,000. The most recent uproar about the scrolls involved Raphael Golb, son of University of Chicago professor Norman Golb. The younger Golb created more than 80 Internet aliases between 2006 and 2009 to advance his father's views about the scrolls, and to give the impression that a large number of people were concerned that the elder Golb was not being treated fairly. |=|

“More ominously, he sent out emails in the name of a leading scrolls scholar, Lawrence Schiffman, then of New York University and now of Yeshiva University, in which Schiffman supposedly confessed to plagiarizing the elder Golb. Raphael Golb was convicted in a New York court in November 2010 on charges that included identity theft and forgery, and his conviction was affirmed on appeal this year. |=|

“Why have these ancient artifacts aroused such passions? To be sure, the most bitter controversies have been fueled by outsize egos and pursuit of publicity. But other discoveries, such as the Coptic texts from Nag Hammadi, have stirred no comparable passions.What makes the scrolls different is that they are the only primary texts we have from Judea that date to about the time of the birth of Christianity and just before the rise of rabbinical Judaism.

Google and Israel Museum publish Dead Sea Scrolls Online

In 2011, Melanie Lidman wrote in the Jerusalem Post: “When the Second Temple period scribes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls on parchment 2,000 years ago and rolled them up in a clay jug in the Qumran caves, they probably weren’t expecting that a curious student in Guangzhou, China would be able to examine their calligraphy magnified several times on the screen of his smartphone as he waited for the subway. But thanks to a new partnership between the Israel Museum and Google, five of the most complete Dead Sea Scrolls – including the famous Isaiah Scroll – were photographed at extremely high resolutions and are now available online for viewing at a level more detailed than the human eye can provide. [Source: Melanie Lidman, Jerusalem Post, September 27, 2011 *|*]

“The Isaiah Scroll was also translated line by line, allowing viewers to search in regular search engines in English for specific phrases or verses in the scrolls. A verse-by-verse Chinese translation will be finished shortly, as Bible scholarship is extremely popular in China, said Israel museum officials. When I arrived 15 years ago, I thought [the Dead Sea Scrolls] were like our Mona Lisa, and what the Mona Lisa is to the world is like what the scrolls are to world’s monotheistic religions,” said Israel Museum Director James Snyder. “The question was, how to keep content of the scrolls in the minds of people; how do we make them meaningful in our contemporary lifetime and in a world on fast forward?” he asked.” *|*

The partnership with Google and the Dead Sea Scrolls began just a few months before they were published online. “Five of the eight Dead Sea Scrolls were photographed column by column in a period of just six days, and then the photos were stitched together to make a continuous scroll in a process that took several weeks. The five Dead Sea Scrolls that have been digitized thus far include the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the War Scroll. Only the Isaiah Scroll is searchable by verse in English. A Hebrew version is also under construction. *|*

“Ardon Bar Hama, a freelance photographer and one of the world’s premier experts in photographing ancient texts for online viewing, used a $50,000 camera that exposed the scrolls to the light for 1/4,000th of a second. Ben Hama’s camera shoots at a resolution of 1,200 megapixels, in comparison, a good personal camera shoots at about 12 megapixels. Google utilizes cloud computing to store to the giant images, allowing people to browse the scrolls from their cell phones. Users will also be able to highlight their favorite verses and post them to their Twitter or Facebook pages, or to comment on verses through the site in an international dialogue. “Google wants to organize information to make it accessible and useful, and it’s hard to think of content that is more important to make accessible and useful,” Yossi Matias, the managing director of Google Israel’s R&D Center, said of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“Google is also involved with an initiative with the Israel Antiquities Authority to upload thousands of fragments from less complete Dead Sea Scrolls that belong to the IAA. The IAA project, which was announced nearly a year ago, is still gathering information and photographing the fragments. Matias cited Google’s goal of breaking down barriers between information and people for their interest in facilitating online access to historical documents. Google also has projects to upload photos and documents from Yad Vashem, the Prado Museum in Madrid, and the Art Project powered by Google, which has masterpieces from many of Europe’s top museums.

Website: Digital Dead Sea Scrolls dss.collections.imj

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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